The Problem of Meaning

The difficulties associated with “the arguments for the truth” of Christianity have given me sleepless nights; most of our core beliefs must be taken on faith. Significant intellectual difficulties, faced by a believer or an alleged believer, are not posed by the problem of proof, but by the problem of meaning. Statements specifically religious seem to me without any meaning.

A. N. Prior


Christianity says, I believe, that sound doctrines are all useless. That you have to change your life. Christianity is not a doctrine, not, I mean, a theory about what has happened and will happen to the human soul, but a description of something that actually takes place in human life.

L. Wittgenstein


Morals are the only proper subject of philosophy; for these inquiries are practicable and useful, but the discussions about nature are quite the contrary, neither being comprehensible, nor having any use, even if they were clearly understood.

For it would be no advantage to us, even if we could with our very eyes survey the whole world, and the nature of all beings, of whatever kind that is. For we certainly shall not be on that account wiser, or more just or brave or temperate, nay, not even strong, or beautiful, or rich, without which advantages happiness is impossible.

Wherefore Socrates was right in saying that of existing things some are above us, and others nothing to us: for the secrets of nature are above us, and the conditions after death nothing to us, but the affairs of human life alone concern us.

Eusebius – Praeparatio Evangelica

Dubito ergo sum

We indeed recognize in ourselves the image of God, that is, of the supreme Trinity. For we both are, and know that we are, and delight in our being, and our knowledge of it. Moreover, in these three things no true-seeming illusion disturbs us.

Without any delusive representation of images or phantasms, I am most certain that I am, and that I know and delight in this. In respect of these truths, I am not at all afraid of the arguments of the Academicians, who say, What if you are deceived? For if I am deceived, I am. For he who is not, cannot be deceived; and if I am deceived, by this same token I am. And since I am if I am deceived, how am I deceived in believing that I am? For it is certain that I am if I am deceived. Since, therefore, I, the person deceived, should be, even if I were deceived, certainly I am not deceived in this knowledge that I am. And, consequently, neither am I deceived in knowing that I know. For, as I know that I am, so I know this also, that I know.

St. Augustine – Of the Image of the Supreme Trinity in Human Nature. The City of God XI, 26

As Others Do

The ultimate triumph of philosophy would be to cast light upon the mysterious ways in which Providence moves to achieve the designs it has for man, and then to deduce therefrom some plan of conduct which would enable that two-legged wretch, forever buffeted by the whims of the Supreme Being who is said to direct his steps no less despotically, to know how to interpret what Providence decrees for him and to select a path to follow which would forestall the bizarre caprices of the Fate to which a score of different names are given but whose nature is still uncertain.

For if, taking social conventions as our starting-point and remaining faithful to the respect for them which education has bred in us, it should by mischance occur that through the perversity of others we encounter only thorns while evil persons gather nothing but roses, then will not a man, possessed of a stock of virtue insufficient to allow him to rise above the thoughts inspired by these unhappy circumstances, calculate that he would do as well to swim with the torrent as against it? And will he not say that when virtue, however fine a thing it be, unhappily proves too weak to resist evil, then virtue becomes the worst path he can follow, and will he not conclude that in an age that is utterly corrupt, the best policy is to do as others do?

Donatien Alphonse François de Sade – The Misfortunes of Virtue


Arcesilaus_and_CarneadesWhat astonishes me most is to see that all the world is not astonished at its own weakness. Men act seriously, and each follows his own mode of life, not because it is in fact good to follow since it is the custom, but as if each man knew certainly where reason and justice are. They find themselves continually deceived, and, by a comical humility, think it is their own fault and not that of the art of life.

I have passed a great part of my life believing that there was justice, and in this I was not mistaken; for there is justice according as God has willed to reveal it to us. But I did not take it so, and this is where I made a mistake; for I believed that our justice was essentially just, and that I had that whereby to know and judge of it. But I have so often found my right judgement at fault, that at last I have come to distrust myself and then others. I have seen changes in all nations and men, and thus, after many changes of judgement regarding true justice, I have recognised that our nature was but in continual change, and I have not changed since; and if I changed, I would confirm my opinion.

The sceptic Arcesilaus, who became a dogmatist.

Blaise Pascal – Pensées